What Doctors Think Is Worth Fighting For

Shelly Reese


February 24, 2016

In This Article

When Personal and Professional Concerns Coincide

Dr Michelle Davis, who practices family medicine in Kentwood, Michigan, likewise traces her activism to the overlap of personal and professional concerns. In 2014, she was seeing a lot of patients with whooping cough and reading headlines about a measles outbreak traced to Disneyland. Concerned about declining herd immunity, she went online to check the vaccination rate at her grandchildren's future school. "The compliance rate was disgusting," she says.

Dr Michelle Davis

Appalled, she launched a campaign to change a state law that allows parents of school-age children to obtain vaccination waivers for religious or philosophical reasons. In August, Dr Davis launched a Facebook page and a website, mivaccinations.org, where visitors can read through vaccination facts and email their concerns to state lawmakers. More than 2500 people have visited the site.

"I really thought if people were educated about how at risk they were because of unvaccinated kids, they'd do something," she says. "Michigan has the fourth highest rate of waivers in the nation. Some of our counties have compliance rates that are lower than those in Third World countries. Until people speak up and pay attention to this issue when they vote, the law will not change. This isn't a personal choice issue any longer. This is a public health issue."

Dr Davis doesn't know whether she'll be able to effect legislative change in the state, but for now, she says, she's doing what she can—beyond the walls of the exam room—to educate the public and appeal to their sense of civic responsibility. "I think most people want to do what's right for the community."

The Moment That Changes Everything

Activism doesn't always feel like a conscious decision. For some individuals faced with a cataclysmic event, it may feel less like a choice than a necessity, Dr Duncan says.

That's how it was for William Begg, MD, who was working in the emergency department (ED) at Danbury Hospital on December 14, 2012, when a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Dr Begg served as liaison between the EMS squads and the ED. "At some point, when I realized the scope of the tragedy, I just looked up in the air and said, 'We have got to do better. I have got to do better.'"

Dr William Begg

Since that awful day, Dr Begg has given innumerable interviews and advocated for gun violence prevention before dozens of groups, including the US Senate and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Every March, he participates in Sandy Hook Rides, cycling from Newtown to Washington, DC, and speaking before packed houses along the way.

As a result of Sandy Hook, "I've accidentally found my place in medicine," Dr Begg says.

"When something like this happens, you try to make sense of it," he continues. "Something positive has to come out of such a horrific, unspeakable tragedy. In the memory of those who died, we have to make some change in their name."

Gun violence is a massive public health issue, Dr Begg says.

"If we approach it that way—like smoking, texting and driving, or alcohol abuse—we can have an impact. We have an opportunity to save dozens or hundreds or thousands of lives, rather than one life at a time."


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